Last Tuesday evening I left my office to walk home. I took the familiar route through the Kyiv city streets, past the Golden Gate and down the hill toward Shevchenko park. A light snowfall moistened my eyebrows. The streetlights illuminated the flakes in midair. The trace already accumulated on the ground reflected the light up to the low-hanging clouds.
Ten minutes into the walk, I started feeling light and dizzy. I paused a few times along the way home, taking deep breaths, feeling disoriented. I felt like I was experiencing some kind of natural, drug-free high. As I crossed onto Volodymyrska Street, I started to hurry, worrying I wouldn’t be able to get home. As I entered the park, I lost control of my direction. I veered wildly off the brick paved path, feeling the soft grass under my sneakers and the slushy snow spattering my jeans.
My next memories are vague: I found myself in the back of an ambulance, telling two medics about myself. I don’t know if I could speak coherently, but they were patient with me. A kind woman named Natasha translated. Another bystander, a man, stood behind her.
I left the park by foot with Natasha. I was still vulnerable, dizzy and disoriented. I leaned on her arm and she repeated the story of what happened. She told me to rest and call a doctor. I’m not sure if she asked my name. I’m not sure if I was present enough to tell her. She left me at the archway leading off the street toward my building.
I still don’t know who Natasha or the man are, or how they found me. I assume they saw me fall and were concerned enough to call the ambulance. They didn’t leave their names or numbers, but they stopped on a snowy night to help a foreign stranger, and that fills me with gratitude and hope.
I’m sure I didn’t thank them properly. I’m not sure I thanked them at all. So thank you, Natasha, for taking a stranger home on a snowy night, talking to him, making sure he was safe. Thank you.
Thanks, too, to each one of my family members and friends who has called and visited since then. Your gifts of listening and advice, offers of food and reminders to rest mean so incredibly much.
This week, I’ve been reminded of my humanity in a way that only illness and enforced rest really offers. I’ve had the opportunity to question my addiction to activity. I’ve been encouraged to examine my priorities and what they might say about my values.
People around me encouraged me to rest, to take a sick day, to make sure I’m ok, to relax. I felt them asking me to grow and accept something essential about being alive: that no one lives forever, that everyone can fail. To acknowledge that I’m a human being, not a machine.
I felt their compassion and recognized that they were promoting community values of mutual care. They wanted me to show compassion for myself, and accept help, and in doing so to be part of a community of care, one in which we help each other when we’re not feeling well.
I want to contribute to a community like that, but I never really considered that I would need to receive care, as well as give it. I thought I would be able to go infinitely, that I would be able to run without stopping. I thought it would show weakness to slow down or stop, even for an instant.
I’ve held a core belief that quality work depends partly on volume of attempts. The more I work, the better I become. Even as I recognize the need to respect natural laws of rest and limits, I feel deficient, like it’s immoral to rest or slow down before all of the problems are solved, before perfection has been attained.
I’m continually tempted to rush at infinity headlong. Reality reminds me that I am finite and there are limits I need to respect. I’m learning that infinity must be handled with care and delicate balance.
It’s a balance between continually striving toward an ambitious, motivating goal, and taking the time for critical nourishment and rest along the way. It’s a balance between structure and uncertainty, between community and independence, between listening and speaking, between giving and receiving.
I so deeply desire to make the greatest impact I can. I so deeply want respect and love and admiration. I’ve assumed that the best way to achieve all of these is through nonstop work. A scare like I had last Tuesday night makes me question this assumption.
I feel lucky that for the support and care I’ve received from doctors, friends and family in the last few days. I’m feeling better, and have plenty of new experiences to think about. I’m grateful for another opportunity to examine the life I’m living.